Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
AS IT WAS IN 1857
In the 1850s, Nathan H. Parker of Clinton, Iowa wrote about Iowaís land, resources, and commerce, and included statistics and information about the most important cities and towns within each county, including Van Buren. First released was Iowa As It is in 1855, published by Keen & Lee in Chicago. Iowa As It is in 1857 was a follow-up edition that included updated statistics and new information not found in his earlier work.
Van Burenís important towns were scattered along the river, beginning about a mile below the Wapello County line. Only the descriptions of Keosauqua and Farmington included population. These two villages stood out as the largest and most influential in the county, and both were reported to have around 1,000 residents.
Keosauqua was certainly a thriving community, but this estimate of size is just another example of a writerís enthusiasm. Officially, the town grew from 704 in 1850 to 849 in 1863. Considering that people across the river in Pleasant Hill and South Keosauqua werenít counted in the townís population until after 1893, another 100 citizens probably lived within the vicinity. The town as it existed in 1857 was smaller than Parker reported, and would not reach the coveted plateau of 1,000 citizens for another 36 years!
Parkerís report says that below Bonaparte, Farmington was a town of considerable size, also containing close to 1,000 people according to the latest population records. It operated 2 or 3 grist mills, a sawmill, a foundry and one engine establishment. Available census figures disagree with Parker and reveal that Farmington posted a population of only 725 in 1863. We can contend that many soldiers were away in Civil War battles at the time, and surrounding villages were not included in the tally. 725 was only a count of residents living within the city limits, therefore Parkerís figure was somewhat embellished.
North Farmington had already been absorbed by Farmington, but the communities of East Farmington platted in 1849, nearby Plymouth next to North Farmington, and Watertown across the river, all contained some population. A total count of people in all of the villages may have exceeded 800 in 1857, but Farmington itself was not that large.
Iowaville operated two mills and a distillery, and at this time Pittsburg had a steam mill in progress. Combined as one community in Parkerís report, Bentonsport and Vernon had two good flouring mills, two sawmills, two carding machines, a woolen factory, a lath mill and a paper mill. Further downstream was Bonaparte, described as a flourishing town that contained a flouring mill, two sawmills and a brick woolen factory.
For decades, Bentonsport claimed a large population of 1,000 or 1,500 people in the year 1857, while across the river Vernon could count 300. But Bentonsport was not one of the Van Buren towns in Parkerís 1857 report said to be nearing the 1,000 mark. If either village population (separately, or combined) had even remotely resembled or approached the glamorous figures assigned to them, Nathan Parker would have clearly reflected this point. Steamboats frequently landed at this location and both were commercial centers, but the rival towns only contained a few hundred citizens at best. As of 1857, neither had resembled Keosauqua or Farmington in importance and/or size. Although Parkerís report did not bother to include an estimate of Bentonsportís residents, the description distinctly places the town as being somewhere in size and importance between Bonaparte or Iowaville, and the larger hubs of Farmington and Keosauqua.
Parkerís failure to include a population figure for Bentonsport at this time thwarts the legendary claims, and emphasizes with a comforting validity that habitation reports during the townís zenith have often and repeatedly been exaggerated
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick